J Bengoy Explores The In-Between Moments in Dogwood Winter

J Bengoy’s music is the kind of sunshine that makes you a little tired. It’s a solo ice-cream outing because you just need to leave the house. It’s seeing a big dog with its head out the window of a car while you were trying to be mad about something small. It’s unpretentious, uncompetitive rock music put together by five young men who clearly love each other, and, at its best, the chilled-out energy they create is contagious.


L to R: Charlie Hill (guitar/vocals), Justin Barton (keyboard/vocals), Greg Heelan (guitar)
Patrick Freeman (drums), Ryan Jory (bass)

The Burlington band’s record Dogwood Winter was released on April 17, 2018. In celebration of the release, I asked them about songwriting, nostalgia, Burlington, and why they love music.

How did the songs on your new album come together? Did you write them individually or collectively?
Ryan: We wrote and recorded the album over the course of our first year together as a band. Our songwriting usually works best when one of us writes a basic song structure and some lyrics and brings it to the table (usually Justin, Charlie, or Greg), and we work through it together to make it our own. This is how we wrote six out of the eight songs on the album. However, this is not always the case. We wrote the song “Hands” after a long day of collective introspection about our intentions as individuals and as a band. We did what most songwriters would tell you not to do: we sat down with the intention of writing a song, and actually wrote one. It also happens to be one of our personal favorites. In an opposite fashion, “Bleached” was a collective accident, born from a simple warm up jam at the beginning of practice one day when we were still working out of Justin’s bedroom. I wish there was a neat little secret to the process of songwriting, but our process is always evolving.

Patrick, you told Noise Ordinance in a previous interview that J Bengoy tries to “walk the line between happy music and sad music.” Can you talk more about what draws you to that line as a band?
Patrick: We wanna make songs for those in-between moments in life. Petting a wet, smelly, friendly dog. A bowl of your favorite cereal gets a little too soggy. The deep strangeness of growing up. That cognitive dissonance is as real as it gets, and there’s an energy in there that makes the music come alive.
One thing that draws me to your lyrics is the nostalgia, and your Soundcloud says Dogwood Winter is about “youth and the exit from it”. Can you tell us more about the themes or memories you’re exploring on the album?
Justin & Patrick: We all spent a lot of time reflecting on our experiences during college and high school during the transition from college to adult life.  When your music focuses on those in-between moments, the memory or theme isn’t always clear. The memory could be of joy in the midst of depression, walking through the snow-covered woods with your high school girlfriend and noticing the innocence you felt then has been lost, re-discovering that innocence later on, climbing the stairs to the High Line to watch the sunrise. It’s the collective memory of youth shared between us which captures that nostalgia.
How would you characterize the Burlington music scene right now? Do you think there is a “Burlington sound”?
Justin: The Burlington music scene could be characterized as…lit, dope, mad chill, far out dude. 
But in all seriousness, Waking Windows, a local festival in neighboring Winooski, has really elevated the scene here. The city has helped to foster a multidisciplinary art scene in the South End Arts District – where many artists, musicians, and machinists choose to have shops and studios (including J Bengoy), and where ArtsRiot (a music venue that has hosted artists such as Whitney, Sheer Mag, etc.) has based itself. 
If you’re interested, some local bands that are floating just under the radar right now are Bleach Day, Clever Girls, Paper Castles, Full Walrus, SWALE, Ivamae, Little Slugger, Gestalt, Bison, Sleeping In, Guthrie Galileo, Alexis Hughes, Julia Caesar, smalltalker, JUPTR, and Erin Cassels-Brown. Ones that are receiving some regional/national attention are Francesca Blanchard, Henry Jamison, Iron Eyes Cody (now renamed Fever Dolls), Madaila, and former Burlington resident Caroline Rose.  I wouldn’t say there is a “Burlington sound”. Burlington is a music town, and the community is really tight-knit and supportive of one another. We love it here.  
Some of your songs have a country-ish twang, which I like. Where does that come from? Did any of you grow up listening to country?
Justin: I grew up in Arkansas and my mom used to take me to many country/folk/blues concerts. I don’t know if I’m consciously drawn to it while songwriting. It probably just percolates through. Much like a good cup of Waffle House coffee.
Charlie: We definitely have some country music influences within our band. We write songs that can sometimes lean towards an American folk, rock, or blues kind of sound that allows us to find places for a certain twang aesthetic.

Who do you consider to be your other musical influences?
Spoon, Wilco, Twin Peaks, Cat Power, Big Thief, Frank Ocean, Elliott Smith, Drake… and Nick Drake.
What role does music play in your life on a daily basis? What keeps you coming back to songwriting as a mode of expression?
Greg: Music occupies a role similar to that of food or water in my daily life; it’s omnipresent, and I use it in a multitude of ways. Often times it’s a snack or a quick sip. A few songs played in the car on the way to work, a playlist meandering from the speakers while cooking: something to fill space. At other times listening to and playing music is more of a meal I savor and pair with a hearty beverage. I’ll don a pair of headphones and sit down with an album, analyzing its songs for their structures and subtleties. At other times I find myself stewing with my guitar to satiate the need for self-expression. Music fills me up.
I’m drawn to songwriting because it is a process that is challenging yet cathartic. Trying to find words to express a feeling while simultaneously fitting them into a rhythm or melody can be difficult. Exploring chord progressions or song structures that complement the sentiment of lyrics can be difficult. But when it all comes together, it is extremely rewarding and uplifting. You have an entirely new means of communicating your thoughts, and that’s what keeps me coming back.
What’s your favorite song to perform?
Ryan: Reprise (Marthasville)
Justin: Hands
Greg: Suspended
Charlie: Hands
Patrick: Armchair
What is in store for the band this year? Are you planning to play in NYC any time soon?
We are currently shooting a music video for “Armchair”. Look for that in June or July. We have a few short weekend plays around the Northeast in the next few months. We should be getting down to NYC in mid-August!

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